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  • Donald L. Shaw (1930–2017)
  • Ignacio Javier López

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Image courtesy of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, University of Virginia.

The passing of renowned Hispanist Donald L. Shaw on January 30, 2017 merits a moment to look back at the arc of Spanish American literary criticism, as its growth throughout the second half of the twentieth century rebalanced the scales in terms of Peninsular and Spanish American studies. When Mr. Shaw (a professor at the University of Virginia, where all faculty are referred to as Mr. or Ms.) began his professional career in the 1950s, many Spanish programs at US and British universities, as well as journals and conferences, were primarily oriented towards Spain. Mr. Shaw's own description of his early academic positions (1959–1961) reminds us about the nascent state of the field at that time, and the space it gave him to establish his critical terrain: "Happily I could be my own man in Spanish American. I taught just about everything one could imagine except strictly contemporary literature (other than Neruda), since texts were then unavailable" (Shaw, Who? 54).

But through his publications, conference presentations, and classes, he developed his central critical thesis that "while earlier literature was about the condition of Latin America and its impact on humans, contemporary Spanish American literature is about the human condition, as it happens to be lived in Latin America" (Shaw, interview). Grappling with that human condition, in literary form, became Mr. Shaw's raison d'etre.

Donald Leslie Shaw (and his minutes-older twin, Kenneth Shaw) was born on February 11, 1930, in Manchester, England, to working-class parents whom he cheerily summed up as follows: "They were [End Page 241] happy on the whole and very rarely quarrelled, but this was mainly due to my father's incredibly patient and gentle personality. I did not inherit it" (Who? 6).

Mr. Shaw's first academic position was at the University of Glasgow, where he spent seven years. He described the department of that era as "the criminal department in Britain" (Who? 50), which hired him largely due to his eligibility as a bachelor. A shift in Donald's academic fortunes came with his move to the University of Edinburgh in 1964, where over the next two decades he would produce some of the foundational critical studies of our time.

Most notable about Mr. Shaw's books is not their number but their longevity. His first two books, published in 1972 and 1975, have been repeatedly reissued and updated by top presses: A Literary History of Spain: The Nineteenth Century (1972; reprinted in Spanish for the Ariel critical series, and currently in its 13th edition), and The Generation of 1898 in Spain (1975; reprinted in Spanish by Cátedra and currently in its 7th edition). Mr. Shaw then published in 1976 his study of Borges's Ficciones, revised and updated in 1992, and still among the most cited and illuminating explications of one of our field's most challenging texts.

Another long-lived study has become central to critics in our field: his Nueva narrativa hispanoamericana, published by Cátedra in 1981 and expanded in 1999, is now in its 8th edition. Alongside these major critical landmarks, during his career at Edinburgh Mr. Shaw published some 66 journal articles, four critical editions, and sixteen contributions to scholarly collections.

In the 1980s, Mr. Shaw was lured to the University of Virginia, first as a Visiting Professor (1983) and then as Brown-Forman Professor of Spanish (from 1986 on). He attributed his hiring to the fortunate timing of a Borges conference at Dickinson College, which he attended, accompanied by several UVA graduate students. In his words, "they came galloping back here and said, 'Not only does he know Borges, but Borges knows him! So hire him!'" (Interview). In one of the odd circularities of our profession, he thus found himself at home with his Edinburgh colleague of two decades earlier, UVA department chair Javier Herrero, and an ambitious and revitalized UVA program.

From there, Mr. Shaw continued to tackle the major debates of his field in his revision of Nueva narrative hispanoamericana, his book...


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pp. 241-243
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